Daniel R. Quiles on “Forecast Form: Art in the Caribbean Diaspora, 1990s–Today”

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Curated by Carla Acevedo-Yates

AT THE MIDPOINT of “Forecast Form: Art in the Caribbean Diaspora, 1990s–Today,” there appears, curiously enough, a Filipino artist: David Medalla, whose signature Cloud Canyons, 1963–2014, oozes wormlike strands of soap bubbles from vertical Perspex tubes. By pointedly venturing beyond her own exhibition’s geographical and chronological frames, curator Carla Acevedo-Yates is alluding to both colonialism and migration. The US acquired the Philippines, along with Guam, Puerto Rico, and Cuba, from Spain in the 1898 Treaty of Paris, drawing its own map of empire. Medalla was a key diasporic artist-curator of the postwar era who brought international artists into contact through his London gallery, Signals. Here, his work heralds a larger deconstruction of the Caribbean as a bounded geopolitical or market category, in contradistinction to recent exhibitions that have doubled down on the region’s specificities as an embattled, ecologically precarious archipelago.

For Acevedo-Yates, a diasporic perspective untethers identity from location but not from history. Her curatorial approach emphasizes affective charge over didactics or exhaustiveness; rather than attempting a sprawling survey, she presents works by only thirty-seven artists. Fluorescent bulbs were removed from the museum’s fourth-floor galleries in favor of dramatic interplays between warmer lighting and darkness—the better to heighten the dramatic impact of videos with the sound turned up to freely bleed into adjacent rooms. Almost every gallery includes a photograph by Ana Mendieta documenting her series of ephemeral sculptures “Silueta Works in Mexico,” 1973–77, positing intergenerational dialogues with subsequent artists: fellow Cuban exile Zilia Sánchez’s painting Soy Isla (I Am an Island), ca. 2000, physically altered by ocean surf; Maksaens Denis’s Haitian Vodou–inspired Kwa Bawon, 2004, its seven screens arranged in a cruciform structure; and María Magdalena Campos-Pons’s installation Sugar/Bittersweet, 2010, which grimly reflects on sugar production and chattel slavery. Mendieta’s literal dispersal through the exhibition hints that she is paradoxically both ubiquitous and elusive, apropos of the “Siluetas” (Silhouettes) themselves.

For Acevedo-Yates, a diasporic perspective untethers identity from location but not from history.

“Forecast Form” commissioned five new works that reinforce and further complicate “the Caribbean as a way of looking at the world,” as Trinidadian artist Christopher Cozier puts it. Puerto Rican–Kuwaiti artist Alia Farid contributed a new entry in her and Jesús “Bubu” Negrón’s “Mezquitas de Puerto Rico” (Puerto Rican Mosques) series, 2014–, for which photographs of little-known mosques on the island were rendered as tapestries by weavers in Mashhad, Iran—one of several works that reflect on Asian migration to and from the Caribbean. In Beyond the Boundary, 2022, Jamaican artist Cosmo Whyte memorializes the West Indies’ five consecutive cricket victories against the English in 1984 by printing a photograph of a jubilant crowd holding a sign reading BLACK WASH onto a heavy nickel-plated steel-bead curtain in the entryway between two galleries. In addition to making visible contemporary xenophobia in nations like the UK, the work recalls Conservative politician Norman Tebbit’s infamous “cricket test,” which proposed testing migrant communities’ loyalty to their new nation based on whom they supported in cricket matches.

Marton Robinson, La coronación de la Negrita (The Coronation of La Negrita), 2022, chalkboard paint and chalk on canvas, sixty parts. Installation view. Photo: Michael David Rose.

Beyond the Boundary cites the beaded curtains of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, another canonical artist with more than one work in “Forecast Form.” His billboard of a lone bird in the sky (“Untitled, 1995) appears in Chicago subway stations as a public component of the show. In the galleries, his “Untitled” (Passport), 1991, a stack of blank oversize pages, is paired with another commission, Guyanese-Canadian artist Sandra Brewster’s Wilson Harris: “even in my dream, the ground I knew I must not relinquish, 2022. This image of the titular Guyanese writer has been painstakingly transferred onto the entire wall of the museum’s barrel vault, producing creases and fissures in the already blurred portrait. The pairing of Gonzalez-Torres and Brewster recalls Édouard Glissant’s theory of the “opacity” or unknowability of the Caribbean subject while conjuring the notion of passport as a verb—the voiding of any fixed self, as well as the possibility of self-construction that migration affords.

In another commission, La coronación de la negrita, 2022, a wall-scale entry in Marton Robinson’s “El negro en Costa Rica” series, 2020–, the artist reimagines the cover of the eponymous history of Costa Rica’s Black population by Carlos Meléndez and Quince Duncan, which chronicles how descendants of slaves and guest workers from Jamaica were hired by the United Fruit Company to link the cities of San José and Limón. The digital print represents the country’s patron saint holding a child who resembles Cocorí, a racist stereotype that appeared in children’s books, while also referring to the slang expression coronar—i.e., to make money from the narco trade. La coronación de la negrita exemplifies the dialectical tension that persists in “Forecast Form” between Glissant’s opacity—a political resistance to knowability itself—and the histories and cultural traditions of colonized and marginalized people that remain at risk of erasure. Crossroads, 2022, a beguiling video by Martinican-French artist Julien Creuzet, operates within this irreconcilable divide, imaging the figure of a sexually indeterminate Black person, their body laden with colonial ships and extractive commodities—the baggage of history—yet still moving toward new subjectivities.

“Forecast Form: Art in the Caribbean Diaspora, 1990s–Today” is on view through April 23; travels to the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Oct. 5, 2023–Feb. 24, 2024; Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, April 6–July 8, 2024.

Daniel R. Quiles is associate professor of art history, theory, and criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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